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It's an otherwise sunny and sleepy day in July when Billy, my favourite villager, gives me his photograph for being one of his best friends. Delighted, I run around in a circle. I would rank this moment highly in my list of "nice things that happened this year," below the development of a vaccine and below discovering an incredible and easy recipe for dumplings (naturally), but above securing a flawless victory for the impostors in Among Us (it always feels a bit mean).
Animal Crossing: New Horizons released in March, when the lockdowns were only just beginning in Europe, and the general feeling was that we'd see how things go. Hindsight might be 20:20, but the new game was a patch of sunshine that occasionally shone through in a gloomy year.
Firstly, its mechanics suited the upheaval of everyday life to a "t". After ticking off a number of tasks to get your island going, you're then left to your own devices, letting players fill the newly anxious time they had with strolls around an adorable utopia. Fish, hunt bugs, shop, decorate, design, terraform... the Animal Crossing community have expressed their creativity in myriad ways.
Isabelle is chasing her tail trying to elevate my island to the coveted five-star rating, but I'm pretty proud of where we are now. This is my second remodel and refurb, so to speak, and it's a calming and gentle project to chip away at while the world is at a standstill. There are some limits to what the player can do, but some have created Raccoon City and the Spencer mansion to devastating attention to detail, others have designed fields of wild grasses like Pokémon, and one even arranged a stale turnip drop-off that donates a meal to food banks.
Though the online services aren't very stable, there's an excitement to visiting another player's island that wasn't there in the earlier entries. Whether you're queuing to make a mint on turnips, or exploring the rolling hills of an ethereal Dream Island, you're connecting with real people.
One weekend, two players and myself spent three hours weeding and uprooting flowers to help one person start anew on their island before they returned to full-time work. We were from three different places, bonding over our dogs, our taste in music, and had three different experiences of the pandemic. It was a genuinely lovely encounter, and it wouldn't have occurred without this game.
Of course, there are criticisms to consider, like the initial lack of nonwhite hair options for players, or the economies where players would pay too much money for a virtual animal to live on their island. However, these have been rectified with a developer response and with a pushback from the community, and with its endless possibilities that extend with every free update, it's earned its place as our Nintendo game of the year.
Check out GAMINGbible's picks for other platforms:
PlayStation Game of 2020: 'Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales'
Xbox Game of 2020: 'Ori and the Will of the Wisps'
PC Game of 2020: 'Hades'
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